Belmont Club

A dead certainty

Recently a University of Edinburgh building named after 17th century British philosopher David Hume was redesignated 40 George Square.

An online petition claiming David Hume “wrote racist epithets” and calling for the building to be renamed has been signed more than 1,700 times.

The university said Hume’s comments on race, “though not uncommon at the time, rightly cause distress today.”

The decision was announced in a statement on the work of its equality and diversity committee and its race equality and anti-racist sub-committee.

Despite efforts to dismiss the renaming of the building as a mere unimportant administrative exercise it was abundantly clear that contemporary university scholars were sitting in disapproving judgment of Hume.

In the past two years we’ve hired two Hume scholars. His work will continue to be researched and taught at the university. He just won’t get his name on a tall, brown tower block. Calling everything ‘cancelled’ means you get to overlook this distinction: I guess that’s the point.

It’s a distinction without much significance. To be sure, it is the prerogative of the present to look back on the past. However the Woke movement will be judged by history as well when it too is  past. One day its own towers, utterances and actions will be examined to see if they caused distress.

Roger Simon, looking back on a Los Angeles he recently left after living there most of his adult life reminds his readers that some things do in fact go downhill. Venezuela is one example. Los Angeles is perhaps another.

When I first moved to Los Angeles in the late sixties I became a paleo-Laker fan. … Who cared about the national anthem? We had ours—Randy Newman’s “I Love LA.” (“From the South Bay to the Valley/From the West Side to the East Side/Everybody’s very happy/’Cause the sun is shining all the time/Looks like another perfect day/I love LA”)

Unfortunately, as another, even better, song goes: “Those were the days, my friend/ We thought they’d never end.”

There’s a reason that song, originally Georgian and Russian, has been popular in multiple languages since it first appeared in 1925.

As for LA, we all know what happened. A picture [of the homeless] is indeed worth a thousand words. …

For that and other reasons, as some of you know, I left. …


Although the game was a blow-out by the Lakers, I took no pleasure in it. Quite the contrary. All I could see were the endless “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts on the players and coaches and the same words emblazoned on the hardwood floor.

“Education Reform” was printed on the back of the familiar purple and gold jerseys. Reform how and for what wasn’t clear.

I wasn’t watching a basketball game. I was being propagandized by the NBA and ESPN.

Can ivory towers decay as well?

David Hume played an important role in describing the limits of reason, arguing that the senses could never disclose the ultimate cause of events; only describe correlations and testify that one thing preceded another. Our truth is only a model builder’s truth never the tyrant’s source of absolute certitude.

It appears that, in single instances of the operation of bodies, we never can, by our utmost scrutiny, discover any thing but one event following another, without being able to comprehend any force or power by which the cause operates, or any connexion between it and its supposed effect … the necessary conclusion seems to be that we have no idea of connexion or power at all, and that these words are absolutely, without any meaning, when employed either in philosophical reasonings or common life.

It should have inspired humility among those who sought to remake the world. The Scotsman’s ideas certainly resonated with the survivors of the French Terror who saw in his writing a warning of what catastrophe self appointed certitude could bring. The Jacobins, had they been listening, might have anticipated what Victor Davis Hanson observed: “inevitably cultural revolutions die out when they turn cannibalistic.” When it is the Woke’s turn to be judged by posterity perhaps 40 George Square may be renamed again — in accordance with the fashion of that day. If they are unlucky then Dickens not Hume may be the prophet:

“I see Barsad, and Cly, Defarge, The Vengeance, the Juryman, the Judge, long ranks of the new oppressors who have risen on the destruction of the old, perishing by this retributive instrument, before it shall cease out of its present use. I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.

That beautiful city, if it comes, will likely be built by people far different than their inquisitors. It is a far, far better thing than the Woke have ever done; a far, far better fate than they have ever shown.

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